Ausmus refraining from assigning bullpen roles
Relievers 'have to earn' spot in 'pen; only Soria is set as Tigers' closer
DETROIT -- Al Alburquerque hadn't seen an eighth-inning lead from the mound since mid-April until he handled the eighth Saturday in what was an 8-1 game. For that matter, Alburquerque only had one lead to protect since Memorial Day. It's entirely possible he'll have more games to protect from here, but nobody knows -- not even Tigers manager Brad Ausmus.
Ausmus has spent the better part of his season-and-a-half managerial tenure preferring set bullpen roles, letting guys get an idea when to expect to be ready. But when Detroit designated Joba Chamberlain and Tom Gorzelanny for assignment, any remaining order -- some of which had already dissipated with their struggles -- went with them.
After that, Ausmus' message to his relievers -- which he expressed in a meeting -- has been clear.
"Other than [closer] Joakim Soria, there are no roles," Ausmus said. "They need to be ready at any time until someone shows us that they've earned a specific role."
It's not necessarily the way Ausmus wants to handle it. But with no relievers other than Soria and Alburquerque with a full Major League season under their belt, Ausmus has to figure out what he has to work with.
"I would love to hand guys roles," Ausmus said, "but you can't just hand out bullpen roles because you want people to have roles. They have to earn the roles.
"Joba earned the [setup] role last year. I used Joba at times in the eighth inning this year, but I also mixed and matched with Joba and [Blaine] Hardy against lefties and righties in the eighth inning. We've used [Bruce] Rondon in the eighth inning. This year, I would say you saw Joba quite a bit, but Joba was not always there in the eighth inning, and sometimes it was a mix of Joba and somebody else."
That mix changed once again after Sunday's loss to the Blue Jays. Gorzelanny's move left Hardy as Detroit's lone lefty reliever, but the Tigers restocked by recalling Ian Krol from Triple-A Toledo. Krol wasn't eligible to be recalled with the Gorzelanny and Chamberlain moves because he had been optioned out fewer than 10 days ago. He's eligible now, and the Tigers are preparing for a trip to Seattle, where left-handed hitters Robinson Cano, Logan Morrison, Kyle Seager, Dustin Ackley and Seth Smith await.
To make room, Detroit optioned right-hander Drew VerHagen back to Triple-A Toledo. He pitched a scoreless sixth inning Sunday before walking the bases loaded in the seventh.
"If we think we need another left-hander, we have Ian Krol available," Ausmus said.
Then there's the trade market, which is likely to heat up shortly after the All-Star break. By going with a younger mix now, Ausmus and team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski have enough time to evaluate young arms and then shop accordingly, though Dombrowski said that wasn't a motivation for them to make the moves now.
Still, one Major League evaluator currently traveling said Tigers scouts have been watching veteran relievers who are anticipated to be available ahead of the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline, and they're likely to make a push for at least one veteran arm.